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Interview with Tina Duncan, August 28, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Tina Duncan, August 28, 2002
August 28, 2002
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Interviewee:  Duncan, Tina Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  8/28/2002 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length  18 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff person with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the university’s library. Today is the 28th of August in the year 2002. We’re at the International Paper Mill, at Riegelwood, North Carolina. We will be interviewing Miss Tina Duncan and our co-interviewer is Harry Warren, the Director of the North Carolina Museum of Forestry.

Zarbock: Tina, I’m going to ask you first what do you do around here and why do you do it?

Duncan: I work in the bleach plant, fourth assistant. We test the pH’s and residuals and such in the bleach plant. When it comes to the bleach plant, it’s brown stock when it leaves, it’s white, and then it goes to a paper machine to make paper.

Zarbock: Do you like it?

Duncan: Yeah.

Zarbock: How did you get trained to do it?

Duncan: Well when you start out here in production, you start out in utility and you go to different lines. You can go to the digesters or go to the line kill which I had been trained on all the bottom jobs in the pulp mill. Bleach plant is my favorite though. It’s more of a relaxed atmosphere. You’re not with a bunch of people together all the time. You can go wherever you want to.

Warren: Have a little more independence where you are now. Tina, how long have you been working for International?

Duncan: About five and a half years.

Warren: What was your background before coming here? Where are you from?

Duncan: I’m originally from upstate New York.

Warren: Really. Welcome to the south. Did you come down here to take this job?

Duncan: No, I came down here with my ex-husband.

Warren: We don’t need to go there. Do you have any family background in the paper making industry, your father, mother, anybody?

Duncan: Actually I was in nursing.

Warren: So you just came down and this job…I mean how did you end up getting here at Riegelwood?

Duncan: They put an ad in the newspaper and I heard there might be money and good jobs down here. I didn't think they would hire me, but they did (laughter). I had no experience. From the time I got out of high school, I was in nursing. I did that for 15 years and got tired of it.

Warren: Were you doing nursing when you came down here? Do you live in the community here?

Duncan: I live in Whiteville.

Warren: In Whiteville. Have you been to the Museum of Forestry?

Duncan: Not yet.

Warren: Well that’s okay. I tell people it’s a sin if you haven’t been there, but it’s one of your sins that’s easier to atone for. Just come by any old time. What do you like best about your job?

Duncan: The people I work with.

Warren: It’s a real family sort of atmosphere that you have here at the plant in Riegelwood?

Duncan: We have a good time. When something breaks and we have to go to work, we all work together pretty good.

Warren: What do you like least about your job?

Duncan: Getting dirty and smelly.

Warren: Is there a lot of that involved with the type of work that you do?

Duncan: You’ve got gases from cooking wood and you’ve got gases from the bleach, different kinds of smells. When you leave here, you can smell it in your clothes.

Warren: Oh really, so it kind of goes home with you.

Duncan: Yes.

Warren: In the five years that you’ve been here, have you seen a lot of changes in the mill operation?

Duncan: Yes.

Warren: Really in just that amount of time. What are some of the changes that you’ve seen.

Duncan: A lot of it’s environmental changes. When I started out here, we were on chlorine and since then, we’re chlorine free now.

Warren: So you don’t use any chlorine in the process.

Duncan: Hydrogen peroxide and oxygen in the bleach. It’s a lot cheaper and there’s a lot of customers that don’t want the chlorine.

Warren: Right, right, and safety is always an issue out here. Is it just continuing to increase their safety procedures and safety awareness? You get a lot of good training in that.

Duncan: Yes. When somebody gets hurt like cutting their finger or gets burned or something, they have people go around and look at it, assess it and come up with a new plan for that area.

Warren: Now when you think of a mill, for a person like me that doesn’t work in a mill, do you think of it as being a manly profession, you know, a manly profession for men, but here you are, a nice lady, woman, working here. Are there a lot of other folks that work in the mill that are also females? It used to be all… Are you sort of a special woman to be working where you work?

Duncan: We’ve got three women working.

Warren: In the entire mill?

Duncan: In the pulp mill.

Warren: In the pulp mill.

Duncan: There’s quite a few women at the ______.

Warren: Well that’s okay. You have some autonomy at the pulp mill.

Duncan: I’m really short compared to most people so I get a lot of ______ (laughter).

Warren: Do you do shift work?

Duncan: Yes.

Warren: What’s your normal shift? Are you on one shift or are your shifts continually changing?

Duncan: Work one shift for seven days and then we’re off.

Warren: How long are you off? Are you off for seven days? Do you work for seven days…

Duncan: After evening shift, you’re off for one day. Then you work six days day shift, then you’re off for four days and then you start graveyard and work seven days…

Warren: And the shifts themselves, does the plant run 24 hours a day?

Duncan: Yes.

Warren: And what time periods do those three shifts fall in? 7 to 3 or…

Duncan: It’s basically to be 7 to 3. We come in from 2 to 3:00, we have to be here at 3:00. If you’re not here at 3:00, the person can send you back home.

Warren: Oh really and they can just continue to work?

Duncan: They can work 16 hours.

Warren: And make a little bit of overtime. Do you get a chance to make very much overtime besides that method?

Duncan: You can always work overtime to clean-up.

Warren: So there’s an opportunity here to increase your paycheck if you really want to do it.

Duncan: Yes.

Warren: Well that gives you some flexibility.

Duncan: There always clean-up.

Warren: (Laughter) There’s always something to clean up around here. Do you make a lot of overtime yourself?

Duncan: Usually about six to eight hours a week.

Warren: Just something to help supplement the income a little bit. Would you have started this profession instead of nursing? Would you have gone into working in a paper mill instead of going into nursing if you knew then what you know now?

Duncan: Probably.

Warren: You actually like this better than nursing?

Duncan: Well, I got a free scholarship to nursing school.

Warren: Do you get a lot of on the job training here and are they continually educating the employees?

Duncan: You can train while you’re in the pulp mill, several different levels you can train at. They’ll train you to 3rd or 4th jobs up. Once you get to the top, you’re stuck there until you retire, but they are always changing equipment and procedures and stuff so they’re always training somebody.

Warren: And you enjoy that aspect of being able to grow professionally and all. Do you see this as a viable career for other women if they would like to get into it?

Duncan: Well it’s a good career, I support my two kids with it.

Warren: How old are your children?

Duncan: 16 and 14.

Warren: Do you think that they would like to get into the papermaking business?

Duncan: My daughter says she doesn’t because I smell too bad when I come home, but my son might.

Warren: He sees it as a possible career. Have you ever thought of getting into any other aspects of forestry like working in the woods? You look like you might be an outdoors type person that might like to take a walk in the pine woods or something.

Duncan: I’ve never thought of going into forestry.

Warren: Just staying here at the mill is good enough for you. Where do you look to go as far as working here at the plant? What are your aspirations, to become supervisor of the plant, mill manager? Does Scott have anything to worry about?

Duncan: No, he doesn’t have to worry about that. I like production. I’ve been asked to train for foreman a few times, but don’t like the idea of that because I mean you get home, when you’re home by yourself and with your kids, you’ve got plans to do something and if they call you, you have to come back in. So I’d like to stay in the production line.

Warren: Do you have a real close relationship with your coworkers outside of the plant because a lot of folks have talked about how there’s a real sense of community and everything? And of course living here in Riegelwood itself, there’s certainly that. Do you find that you sort of have an extended family with some of the coworkers that you work with?

Duncan: Yeah. Like if you’re going home from work or somebody sees you in town and you’re broke down or something, they’ll come help you. If you’ve got a sticker on your car, everybody in the community and in the county knows that you work for IP. If there’s somebody that works there that might not know you, but they see the sticker on your car, they’ll stop and talk to you.

Warren: Oh really. So people will actually encounter you and say, hey do you work for IP and you get some recognition in the community just by being employed here. Many, many years ago, not associated with IP or Riegel or any of the paper companies, but the old foresters in the area used to have a little club called the Bush and Bog Club. You can just about imagine what that was all about. It was an opportunity for them to get together and party a little bit. Do you find that there’s that kind of subculture if you will that exists amongst the employees here?

Duncan: I do. We, we had some retirement parties. They used to have a lot of big Christmas parties at the most and stuff like that at the lodge.

Warren: Oh the property that IP has down at Lake Waccamaw going down Bellacoola Road. I love the name of that road.

Duncan: One couple out here got married there.

Warren: Oh really. So you actually had some plant romance here, both of them work here.

Duncan: They still both work here. One works in administration and one works ____.

Warren: Have you seen much of that? Is that unique or does that happen occasionally?

Duncan: Well since I’ve been here, I’ve known three couples.

Warren: Oh really. So the advent of women in the plant has led to some probably unexpected results (laughter). They truly are an IP family. Met here, married here and now maybe their children will come to work here.

Duncan: One thing weird about the couple I was talking about, they both worked out here, but they didn't know each other and they met at another person’s wedding and ended up getting married.

Warren: And they realized that they both worked here at IP and they started looking around the plant to find out who was here when. Paul, do you have any questions that you’d like to shoot for?

Zarbock: Rather uncomfortable one. Do you really smell kind of puny when you leave?

Duncan: Yeah, smell pretty bad especially if you have to work in the screener where the digesters are, all the gas from cooking the wood.

Zarbock: Do you inhale that?

Duncan: Not usually. We have gas masks if the gas gets bad. It’s just the smell lingering and everything.

Zarbock: So it’s an odor more than a gaseous…do you think you’re smelling bad right now?

Duncan: I smell like chlorine. I can smell myself sitting here.

Warren: I’m right next to you and I can’t detect any odor at all. They’re very, very safety conscious here at the plant, but there’s still danger involved. What would you say is the most dangerous part of your job?

Duncan: In the pulp mill, probably well in the paper mill, you have to pinched points in between rollers and stuff. In the pulp mill, we’ve got pulpers. Hot chemicals, acid chemicals, spills, you know chemical spills.

Warren: Right, but does that happen very often? What do you wear, some sort of an industrial apron?

Duncan: We’ve got rain suits, goggles, rubber gloves and things. Usually if you wear your safety equipment like you’re supposed to, it’s not a problem.

Warren: How long do you have for lunch? I’m going to ask some real basic things.

Duncan: You don’t get a lunch break. Whenever you get time to eat, you eat.

Warren: Oh really. So when you come to work at 7:00, you work from 7:00 to 3:00, so that’s 8 hours and you don’t really get a lunch break. You just get paid for those 8 hours and slip in a sandwich if you can. So most of the employees, they just bring sandwiches to work with them? Is there a lunchroom. Is there a little microwave that they can slip a little something in there?

Duncan: They can go to the cafeteria if it’s open. All the break rooms have microwaves and refrigerators. You can bring what you want.

Warren: What do you usually bring?

Duncan: Chef Boyardee usually works for me.

Warren: You have your own personal chef or Boyardee? Paul, anything else?

Zarbock: Not really.

Warren: Was there anything else that you’d like to add, Tina?

Duncan: It’s a good job. It’s good pay and a lot of good people here.

Warren: You expect that you’ll be here a long time?

Duncan: I might be. I’m supposed to be getting married next year, so I don’t really know.

Warren: Well I hope there’s a paper plant wherever you move away to because you seem to enjoy what you’re doing. You’re getting married next year. Now you didn't meet your future husband here?

Duncan: No.

Warren: Okay, just checking to see if there was a fourth marriage coming up.

Zarbock: Did you say you were moving too?

Duncan: I might be.

Zarbock: Where might you be going?

Duncan: He’s from Asheboro right next to the zoo.

Warren: Right, I was going to say, get a job tending animals in the zoo.

Duncan: I don’t think so, I’ve got one dog and I don’t like him a whole lot.

Warren: Well thank you very much. I certainly do appreciate it and hope you’ll come by and see us at the forestry museum.

Zarbock: Thank you, Tina.

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